Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720 - 722)



  Q720  Mr Chaytor: Returning to the international dimension, the government established a bilateral agreement with China two years ago, I understand, to do joint work on climate change. Work has been done in terms of agriculture with China and in terms of renewable energies. Is there any joint working specifically on dock transport and is the department represented on the bilateral working group?

  Mr Alexander: One of the reasons that we were so keen to prioritise climate change in Gleneagles was to reflect the fact that, in light of the difficulties of securing full international cooperation on Kyoto, we needed if we were serious about this issue to engage the emerging economies of India and China. If I recollect, the piece of joint working that you describe involves support for a clean coal technology power station where there was a demonstration project to be developed in China. Again, if one looks at the number of coal fired power stations that are anticipated in China over the years to come, it is salutary in light of the present policy levers available to all governments. It will have the potential to make a very considerable impact. It is right to recognise that through our leadership of the G8 we have placed a significant weight on relationships with China. I also was aware that in terms of dealings at a European level with China during the British presidency the environment featured prominently. Simon, in terms of the official contact, are you aware of what has been the position previously with the department?

  Mr Webb: Obviously we have been in support of the work which colleagues from Defra have been doing on that. As you know, they put an enormous amount of effort into that and made some progress. To be honest, there has not been a lot of work. There was not much of a transport component to that. We are continuing to try. I should mention that we have another thing on the go here which is an organisation which we have been supporting the Secretary of State on, turning it into an international transport forum. We just got this done last month. That organisation has concluded that, subject to a formal decision, it would like to invite China and India to participate in the international transport forum. I am going to Beijing on Monday to talk to Chinese colleagues about whether they would like to come and talk about transport. On the agenda of this forum at the meeting, there was a very big item on sustainable climate change and on the future programme. There will be other things like congestion and so on. We are offering dialogue to Chinese colleagues but again that is an offer and we hope they will take it up.

  Mr Alexander: That meeting was the first meeting internationally that I undertook as the Secretary of State for Transport. The deal that was there to be done—and I am glad to say that we were able to secure it—was essentially to change this organisation from what had been a European conference of transport ministers to being a global forum. There were genuine concerns being expressed by a number of countries as to whether that was the way to go, but it was anticipating exactly that kind of general work that Simon and his team had worked through the proposals. Then I worked hard in Dublin to make sure that we got the agreement. I am glad to say that we got the consensus in Dublin to establish this global forum. On the day in Dublin that we did that deal to establish the global forum, I am glad to say also that it was a British government view that was expressed in the broader debate about the environment which advanced the case for aviation coming within the emissions trading scheme. We do use whatever opportunities are available to us to advance the case, not just for recognising the global nature of the challenge, but also seeing if there are European solutions to continue to garner support for it and whether there are global solutions to create the forum in which we can achieve it.

  Q721  Mr Chaytor: Given that we currently have a billion vehicles on the world's roads, China is going to contribute massively to an increase in the number of private vehicles in the years ahead. Is there a case for specific British/Chinese work to almost export some of the technological solutions that the department is considering and the policy solutions as well? Is there an advantage there in selling our expertise in traffic management, congestion, emissions reductions to the Chinese before they massively expand the number of private vehicles on their roads?

  Mr Alexander: In Thomas Freedman's The World is Flat he quotes the number of new cars going onto the road in Beijing every month. If you need to be convinced as to the importance of this issue and the sustainability of the Chinese economy in recent years, just look at the set of numbers in his book. I am convinced of it. I think you raise an important, broader point however. Do the kind of new technologies that we have been discussing in terms of not just emissions but engine efficiency offer genuine opportunities for economic growth and indeed for British exports in the future? I am absolutely convinced that is the case. Returning to the earlier point, can you decouple carbon from economic growth, one of the ways that you can do that is to get yourself into the right place in the global value chain by being leaders in terms of green technology. That certainly involves a transport component that ranges much more widely than transport. If you look, for example, at the work that this government has initiated in terms of renewables and the potential that offers for us to develop real technological leadership, you are absolutely right to challenge us to say: is there work that we can be doing, not just with the Chinese but elsewhere globally. I will certainly reflect on the point that you have made.

  Q722  Chairman: We are very grateful to you. You have been very generous with your time. I apologise for having kept you a bit longer but, as you can gather, there are quite a number of aspects of your brief that we were quite interested in. We much appreciate the time you have spent exploring them with us and I hope that you will find our report interesting and helpful.

  Mr Alexander: I am sure I will. Thank you very much.

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